Pilgrim’s Progress

757 nights : 28,768 miles travelled : countries visited: 27

‘(A) journey becomes a pilgrimage as we discover, day by day, that the distance traveled  is less important than the experience gained.’     Ernest Kurtz

We first saw them as we drove north out of Portugal. Usually in ones and twos, often with a stick and always with a backpack. In rain and sun, heads were down looking at the path directly ahead. We were confused, as we thought the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela was one path across northern Spain from the Pyrenees.  But the promise of a sunny weekend by the sea distracted us from seeking an answer straight away.

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There is nothing so relaxing as watching azure waves foam white against rocks. Listening to the same would have been nice, but for us that was drowned out by the wimpering and whining of a spoiled bratdog nagging for yet another game on the beach. Yes life is hard!

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The Costa de Morte is punctuated by crosses marking the scenes of shipwrecks but on a more positive note is known for the regular sightings of dolphins. Well not so regular; it took many hours of gazing to see three. As I say….a hard life!

There is a good reason why Spain’s north western corner is so green and the blue skies soon gave way to the threat of rain. So we retraced our trail and headed to the destination of the pilgrims that we had passed.  The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela houses the tomb of whom many believe to be St James the Apostle and while the scaffolding disguised the splendour, it could not hide the sheer scale of the facade.

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Many believers queue to embrace the statue of the Apostle behind the altar
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Pilgrims arrive in the Plaza del  Obradoiro
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The fabulous Hostal  de los Reyes Catolicos is now a fabulously expensive hotel!

Neither of us have a religious faith but it does not take much to imagine the joy felt when arriving here after walking hundreds of kilometres and when you multiply that emotion countless times over many centuries you can’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere of the old streets.

It would seem that the Camino de Santiago or ‘The Way’ is not one path but a network of pilgrim routes. What we knew of was the Camino Francés or the French Way. Others include Camino Portugues from Oporto  which explains the pilgrims we saw, and Camino Ingles from A Coruna and Ferrol on the north western tip of Galicia. This English way is one of the shorter routes (less than 100 kilometres) and dates back to the 12th century when thousands of pilgrims from England and the Nordic countries began their walk from the ports they disembarked at.

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The scallop shell has long been a symbol of the Camino de Santiago

Our walk from the camperstop into the city was lined with hairdressers and barbers. This was too good an opportunity to miss so I dived in to find one with availability. We have had several fun experiences trying to communicate what we need with a mixture of sign language, photographs and google translate in salons in Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal and Italy and this was no different. Smiles and nods reflected in a mirror saw me leave happy, more Judy Dench than Clare Balding once again!

Lugo has the finest Roman walls in Western Europe and it is possible to walk the two kilometres encircling the old town. We didn’t, as we seemed to get even wetter on top than in the streets below, which goes to show that we probably aren’t cut out for any pilgrimage routes!

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Going up!
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The wall is up to 7 metres wide and had 85 towers
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The town has encased the wall as it has grown over the centuries

As we drove around Galicia we noticed that many properties had strange little buildings in the garden. These grain stores, or horreos vary in  age, size and construction but all were of the same basic design and are a real feature of this part of Spain.

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The trail hugged the coast heading east and we enjoyed spectacular scenery as we drove between mountains and sea. The somewhat hairy La Hermida gorge drive took us up to Potes on the edge of the beautiful Picos de Europa National Park with dramatic peaks and crisp air.  They may not be the highest mountains in Europe but they were our favourite.

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Potes
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The walk back to the campsite
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Fiat 600s making their own pilgrimage!

The landscape levelled as we headed further inland but was no less cinematic. Ancient villages and twisting roads slowed us to a crawl, perfect conditions for our snail. We took a break and stood in awe at the transition before us, from castle topped hills  behind to a vast plain ahead.

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The ochre earth of La Rioja made this wine growing region distinctive from other areas we had driven through.

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With more time we could have followed a pilgrimage trail of a different kind, as wine makers seem intent on outdoing each other in the quirky architecture of their bodegas. We made it to Ysios near Laguardia where the bodega sits so perfectly with the mountains, which gave us the desire to come back to see (and taste) more!

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Labastida is a perfect example of our favourite kind of stop on the trail. The camperstop is free and next to the leisure centre. A historic little town is within easy wandering distance with shops and bars where we can buy local produce to repay our free stay!

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Many properties in Calle Mayor  have an aristocratic heritage 
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Old fortifications now form part of a town garden

We snaked around the Camino de Santiago and crossed it’s path several times.

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Waymarkers guide pilgrims along the whole route

This made us wonder why journeys feels different when they have a purpose and appreciate the time we have enjoyed travelling with none. Nevertheless we were delighted to meet Lorraine who was walking the camino, with Larry in the support vehicle at the camperstop in Ayegui. We were drawn here by the stories of a wine fountain for pilgrims on The Way. Amazingly it was true, but having only walked about 500m  we felt it would be wrong to help ourselves and bought ours from the winery!

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Exhausted in less than a kilometre!
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Kipper had a sly taste while Graham was still trying to believe his dream was true!
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The Monasterio de Irache was one of the first hospitals on the Camino de Santiago

Puente la Reina is a beautiful Romanesque bridge and the medieval town has a constant stream of pilgrims passing through as it is where two main routes meet.

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The Church of the Crucifixion was founded by the Knights Templars
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The stillness and simplicity of the chapel felt more spiritual than all the grand cathedrals

It felt appropriate that we spent our last night in Spain in Sos del Rey Católico.

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This is the birthplace of Ferdinand II of Aragon, one of the Catholic Monarchs and we had crossed their paths many times. Not deliberately however. We have not made any plans beyond the following week on our trail. It is less of a pilgrimage more of a coddiwomple, travelling purposefully towards an unknown destination, but no less meaningful for that.

M & G xx

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Treat of the week: We left Spain with some nice chocolate and delicious aniseed biscuits which we’ll be trying to recreate when we get home!

Outside In

697 nights :  25,671 miles travelled : countries visited: 26

“We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us”  W. B. Yeats

It is ridiculous to try and squeeze our entire time in Andalucia into one blog post. We have been here for six weeks gathering countless multisensory memories but we can’t move on until we have absorbed and shared the experience. Photographs cannot describe the heady scent of orange blossom, the birdsong on full volume or the shivers that evening brings as the hot sun gives way to a chilly night. But there are plenty (!) of pictures to show you the wonderful places we’ve seen and to remind us how lucky we are when we return home.

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The A92 a scenic (over)drive

It’s always a good sign when the road on our Michelin map is accompanied by a green line. The A92 is a spectacular road gradually climbing around the Sierra Nevada, through a wild west desert which gives way to olive plantations, a sunny plateau filled with almond blossom and finally on to magical Granada.

The headline act in Granada is the Alhambra, a complex of fortress and palaces occupied by Moorish and Spanish rulers for centuries. The Moorish architecture is breathtaking with the use of courtyards and water keeping the heat of the sun at bay while bringing the outside in. Tessellated tiling is symbolic and inscriptions of poetry and spiritual texts surround the rooms with blessings and praises.

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“When the rest of Europe was building castles in the air, in Granada they were constructing castles upon water.”   Jesus Bermudez  Pareja
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The Courtyard of the Lions. The thousand year old lions represent the sun, the source of life

 

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The austerity of the sixteenth century Charles V Palace is a dramatic contrast
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The Torre de la Damas offers views over the wonderful gardens and terraces
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Even cabbages are required to grow in geometric order
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The Alhambra has a close relationship with the city below

Unfortunately in Spain we cannot take Kipper on public transport so we have to find camperstops close to where we want to be. Fortunately we were able to sleep on the car park of the Alhambra which meant we were within steep walking distance of the narrow streets of the Arab quarter and the historic centre of Granada. We got up early to explore the city and to view the Alhambra from afar.

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The biggest surprise was as we turned a corner and the cathedral unexpectedly ‘found’ us . It was built by Isabella and Ferdinand, parents of Catherine of Aragon, who rest in a crypt in the royal chapel next door.

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The gothic splendour of  the Capilla Real, burial place of the Catholic Monarchs

The woodland around the Alhambra gave welcome shade as we walked back up the hill to Brian, while the irrigation channels gave Kipper the most fun walk in days!

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The boys settled into the gentle rhythm of life in Humilladero while I had a quick trip back to the UK. This is a small village close to the rugged hills of the Paraje Natural Torcal de Antequera and was the first place we saw evidence of the financial crisis, with many plots and buildings unfinished. However the surrounding countryside was soothing and the biggest stir of the day was the movement of sheep and goats to new grazing areas in the village.

We were drawn to the Fuente de Piedra Natural Park by the promise of flamingos and they were there but very low water levels on the lake meant that they were barely visible. We didn’t need a telescope to enjoy the sky though!

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The rabbits were very close!

My brother joined us for a couple of weeks and we moved on to Olvera which has a stunning hilltop castle and church. However, the camperstop was at the bottom of the hill. We were at the end of the Via Verde de la Sierra, a walking and cycling trail along a disused railway and this was an easy way to enjoy the gorgeous  green countryside.

 

The two parts of Ronda are bridged across the dramatic El Tajo gorge and we found it’s setting and varied history fascinating. Popular with tourists but the uniqueness and charm of the town shines through.

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Fortifications date back to Moorish times
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Ronda is one of Andalucia’s spectacular ‘white towns’
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The old bridge on a narrower part of the gorge

Spanish towns come to noisy life at weekends and we were lucky to catch a marching band competition and an exhausting cycle race.

The eighteenth century Puente Nuevo spans a 100 metre chasm and gives wonderful views of the Serrania de Ronda mountains. We were drawn back here again and again.

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Ernest Hemingway celebrated the complexities of Spain’s character  and describes this area’s dark Civil War days in For Whom the Bell Tolls. There is a memorial to him close to the town’s bullring. Ronda is regarded as the birthplace of modern bullfighting and the Plaza de Toros is now a museum. Graham and Kipper created a less bloodthirsty entertainment for the tourists. No animals were harmed in the taking of these photographs!

 

A stunning mountain road took us to the coast once again and as we descended we could see our destination from around fifty kilometres away. Our son was flying into Gibraltar and the camperstop gave us a front row view of ‘the rock’.

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We were a ten minute walk from the frontier and almost the first thing encountered is the airport runway. It was amazing to stand and watch Rob’s plane circle and then land right in front of us!

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Across the runway a further fifteen minutes on foot takes you into the heart of town. Walking around Gibraltar is like walking around with your underwear inside out. It all looks familiar but something doesn’t feel quite right. It was very strange to be suddenly reading signs in English and using sterling again. The shopping streets hark back to the 1970’s and there is a faintly colonial air to official buildings.

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The boys took the cable car to the top of the rock for a spectacular view down to the marina where we were parked and across to North Africa.

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Looking back down to the airstrip and to Brian parked in the very centre of the picture
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The ubiquitous Barbary ape. No humans were harmed in the taking of this photograph!

 

Within minutes of arriving at the camperstop in Jerez de la Frontera we were poured glasses of ice-cold sherry of varying tastes and colour by the enthusiastic site manager. Not speaking each other’s language, our judgements could only be expressed via facial expressions. It is surprisingly difficult to lie when not using words!

Gonzalez Byass is the largest producer in a city full of bodegas and has a town sized complex within Jerez, given over to producing and storing wine, sherry, brandy and whiskey. Tio Pepe is a worldwide brand, recognisable by the sombrero wearing bottle and it was fun tasting that alongside the British brand Croft Original.

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Gustav Eiffel (yep the French guy!) was commissioned to create a special sherry store in honour of a royal visit in 1869.  The Real Bodega de la Concha holds 214 casks of Amontillado, bearing flags of the regions of Spain and the 115 countries where the wines are exported. The smell walking past the casks in all the bodegas was heavenly!

 

It is always dangerous visiting somewhere with high expectations but we need not have worried with Seville. It is a fabulous open city that could consume weeks of your life and still leave more to see. But mostly it is a friendly place to wander or sit at a table and watch the world pass by.

The cathedral is one of the largest in the world and is Gothic with a capital G! It was started in the 12th century on the site of the Great Mosque and the bell tower, once a minaret and Orange Tree Courtyard date from before then.

DSC_1344DSC_1387 The tomb of Christopher Columbus is carried aloft by four figures representing the regions of Spain at the time of his death. However because his remains have been moved between continents several times, there have been questions raised as to whether it is actually him held high.

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The university campus is based in what was once a tobacco factory, the fictional setting for the opera Carmen. The wall is inlaid with plaques demonstrating Seville’s distinct style of ceramic decoration.

The Metropol Parasol claims to be the largest wooden building in the world and is known locally as the mushroom. It houses restaurants and shops and a museum displaying roman ruins unearthed during it’s construction but Graham and Robin most enjoyed the views of the city from the undulating walkway on the roof.

Our camperstop was just across the river from Maria Luisa, one of the most beautiful city parks. Grand pavilions house museums at one end while nearer the city,  the magnificent Plaza de Espana features symmetry, ceramic decoration and the Andalucian art of mixing outside with in perfectly.

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The Mudejar Pavilion houses the Museum of Art & Popular Costume
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Cooling off!
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Plaza de Espana
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Does it get more Spanish than this?!

 

The third in our golden triangle of car park accommodation was by the city walls of Cordoba. Here the Mezquita stands out, a unique curious blend of mosque and cathedral. No amount of reading prepares you for it’s beauty.

 

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The Courtyard of Orange Trees means you enter the Mezquita before going inside
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Running water in the Courtyard helps pilgrims keep their cool
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The Mosque is a forest of columns and arches

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At the heart of the Mosque is a Baroque Cathedral including mahogany choir stalls
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The Roman Bridge was originally built in the 1st century

Cordoba’s hot dry climate has meant homes are built around a central patio since Roman times. Filling the patio with plants and water features helps to keep it cool and once a year a competition is held and visitors get the chance to see behind the iron grills and enjoy the colour and scents. We were too early for the festival but found a food market with a sequence of patios in which to sit outside in.

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There is nowhere quite like El Rocio. The tarmac ends at the edge of town and Kipper skips as though we are at the beach when we cross the ‘road’. At weekends we dodge horses topped by people of all shapes and ages and carriages filled with smiling families.

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There’s no need to dismount to enjoy a beer!

We are on the edge of the Donana National Park, home of the Iberian Lynx which is very hard to spot and countless amazing species of birds, which are joyfully easy to see. Throughout our time in Spain we have seen storks nests with storks in them! Here we have also seen eagles, ibis, spoonbill and more flamingos than anywhere else. If only either of us was a skillful photographer we could prove it….but this is the best we could manage so you’ll just have to believe us!

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Easter is a low key event here, compared to the festival at Pentecost which attracts a million people . On Good Friday we watched the Crucifix being processed around the town, followed by a faithful congregation, curious visitors and children on horses.

We are finding it hard to leave the neat campsite here. We love the alternative feel of the town. The sun is hot every day and our limbs are still looking dip dyed as we expose more of them to the light. But we are within a whisper of Portugal and it would be a shame not to go and have a look.

M & G x

Treat of the week:  For me, sharing part of the trail with Rob and Robin on Mother’s Day!! For Graham it was a road sign which gave rare advance warning that Brian would definitely not squeeze through!

 

Pump up the volume

682 nights : 25, 518 miles travelled : countries visited: 26

“Spain is different”   Manuel Fraga

Okay… now we see why Spain is so popular with visitors!

Our last view of coastal towers was an eerie mirage on the horizon. Los Alcazares looks out across the sea to la Manga del Mar Menor, a narrow strip of land covered in apartment blocks. We understand that tourism transformed the economy of Spain and realise that millions of people want to enjoy the sun, sea and sand on offer, but this is a big country that offers so much more.

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It says something about us that we felt much more comfortable sleeping next to a service station than on all the immaculate camperparks along the coast. But at least we have become more proficient in using apps on our phones. Camper Contact helps us to find somewhere to sleep,  podcasts allow us to keep up with our favourite Radio 4 programmes and Google Maps prevent us getting completely lost when exploring. We checked the latter before walking the two kilometres into Cartagena and a big blue line promised a riverside stroll. However Kipper wasn’t going to get the opportunity for a dip here!

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Cartagena is an archaeologist’s dream that seems to be actively peeling back it’s present to expose the past. It was fascinating to walk from traditional Spanish plazas into partly demolished streets.

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Access to the Molinete Archaelogical Park is via a bizarrely placed escalator which lifts you into an area blending Mediterranean planting with Roman ruins, a 16th century defensive wall, remnants of the 19th century red light district and a refuge used during the Spanish civil war in the 1930’s!

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Monumental steps leading to the site of a Roman shrine next to a 19th c. mill
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The canopy protects the remains of  Roman thermal baths and the atrium
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The park is on one of five small hills giving great views of the city

We walked across town, stopping for a break at a bar which promised afternoon tea with scones. I couldn’t resist, despite being snooty about full English breakfasts and fish and chips on the costas. Graham sensibly stuck to a beer while I crunched my way through biscuits sandwiched with cream and a glass of lukewarm water with a teabag in it. I learned my lesson!

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The Roman amphitheatre pushes the modern city aside
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Looking down onto ancient and modern theatres and across the Port of Cartagena

We found a complete contrast in the hills and trees of the Sierra Espuna regional park but the direct Spanish sun has the same effect. Everything seems brighter and louder.  In the city, reflections are blinding and scooter engines and barking dogs reverberate through you. In the countryside, shadows seem alive and birds and crickets sing a piercing chorus.

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We were on high alert as we enjoyed our first proper hike of the year.  Pine Processionary caterpillars are covered in thousands of irritating hairs which can cause severe reactions in humans and animals. We have heard horror stories of dogs losing tongues and often their lives after coming into contact with them. In spring, the caterpillars create distinctive cotton-like nests which they sleep in and leave to feed. They move about in nose to tail processions which would make them interesting to a curious Kipper.  We kept him on the lead and skirted around the scores of trees which hosted the nests.

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There was a treeless daily walk along the irrigation canal which fed into the lemon groves surrounding us. It was much safer to stick our noses into the delicious produce boxes!

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The hilltown of Mojácar was saved from extinction by an enterprising mayor who offered cheap accommodation to artists and craftsmen and is now a significant tourist spot.

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Impossibly narrow streets offer shelter from the heat
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The Indalo symbol is used everywhere as a lucky charm

Views from the town look one way to the modern seaside resort of Mojácar Playa and inland towards the volcanic plugs in what is known locally as the valley of pyramids.

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You approach the Cabo de Gata nature reserve through the shimmering sea of polytunnels which provides northern Europe with out of season vegetables. Rolls of waste plastic  and the shanty style accommodation in outlying villages made us think of the tension between bringing prosperity to the Spanish economy and the human and environmental cost of giving us cherry tomatoes at Christmas.

The nature reserve beyond offers a glimpse of coastal Spain before the arrival of mass tourism. We based ourselves in San José and loved walking to deserted beaches through a technicolour world of poppy reds, acid yellows and spring greens.

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Genoveses Beach

At last Mr Kips was able to run off the frustration of all those No Dogs signs higher up the coast! The volcanic formations on Mónsul beach were a backdrop in scenes on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which inspired Graham to get out his favourite sun hat…any excuse!

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Building within the reserve is governed by strict planning law and restoration work is carried out here where it may be ignored elsewhere. This satisfies the aims of the park, attracts tourists and means that human impact sits better in the environment. We appreciate that this is not possible everywhere but were very happy to find this beautiful corner of Spain.

 

San Miguel de Cabo de Gata has an incredibly long beach lined with old fishing boats. A road divides this from saltworks which date from Roman times.

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The saltworks still produce 40,000 tons per year
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The flooded land creates an ideal habitat for flamingos
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The old church at Las Salinas de Cabo de Gata has been restored

The long road ends in a lighthouse, which gives a great view of Arrecife de las Sirenas or Mermaids Reef.

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The lighthouse is on a point used for reference by sailors since the Phoenecians
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Mermaids once lived on the reef, or were they monk seals?

Ironically it has been the quieter parts of our trail that have  surrounded us with sights and sounds that mean we’re getting the message loud and clear. Spain is amazing!!

M & G xx

Treat of the week: Afternoon tea…..what was I thinking??

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People like us

652 nights : 24,534 miles travelled : countries visited: 25

“People go to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the people they ignore at home”.   Dagobert D.Runes

While we try to travel with an open mind, we were hesitant about taking our snail to Spain. We had heard about the huge flocks of ‘snowbirds’, people who escape northern European winters to the kinder climes on the Spanish Med. In addition to those permanently resident are hundreds who chase the sun in motorhomes and it was suggested we call ahead to reserve spaces on camperparks and sites. This turned out to be excellent advice. Initially snooty about all the motorhomes casually parked on any available ground in Peniscola, Calpe and El Campello, we soon realised that most local sites were full and many people were waiting for a space to become available. Ironically, it sometimes seemed as though we were paying for less space than those squatting on every corner!

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We spoke to some campers determined to avoid paying to pitch at all costs

We paid to cosy up with others but at least we were close to the bar in Calpe  !

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Mr Kips made full use of the limited available space outside the door
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The Penon de Ifach in Calpe is Spain’s northern rock

We found more breathing space on a campsite near to the port town of Sagunto. Our route took us via a flooded road which was closed but it would seem the usually conformist Graham lives more in fear of Lucy the satnav than the Spanish authorities!

We were lucky to be on a pitch on the beachfront and soon understood why so many of our neighbours had returned many times to spend winter here. The site was a little frayed around the edges, but there were no tower blocks and a quiet dog friendly  beach where we could gently stroll and register that we had made our own escape from the grey skies at home.

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We had our own path from the  sand to the motorhome
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A great place to blow away the winter cobwebs

We have avoided the tolled motorways and have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the roads in Spain, many of which are accompanied by cycleways and lycra clad athletes.   Cycling  seems to be really popular and our weekend in La Vall de Laguar was enlivened by excited Spanish families taking part in a local cycling festival and professional teams whizzing past on off season training routes. We enjoyed the hills and views at a more relaxed pace.

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Valley terraces host olive, nut, cherry and citrus trees
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Campell

The whole valley was sprinkled with springs and the one just outside the campsite still had Campell’s traditional village laundry, fed directly by mountain water. (There was no hot wash cycle offered!)

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This spring basin needed to be cleared of stones. There was a willing volunteer!
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Still a well used facility (no pun intended)

Whilst our wheels did not stop turning in Benidorm, we experienced mass motorhome migration all along the Costa Blanca and met people like us who enjoy motorhoming, but who are happy to pitch up in one spot for months on end next to people like them. There is nothing wrong with that but we would miss the excitement of constantly changing vistas, the thrill of finding new local delicacies to enjoy with our coffee and the warmth felt when clumsily greeting someone new in their own language.

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We know that is achievable here in Spain so we are snailing hard to avoid the all too common clichés from hereon.

M & G xx

Treat of the week: The N332 defines the margin of high rise coastal resorts from the rural plains where arid land miraculously produces many different crops. It is a road where you see two Spains meet. We found somewhere to stop and stare towards the saltpans and lagoons, home to flamingos and avocets and a different kind of tower.

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 16th century watchtower in Salinas de Santa Pola

Allez Allez Allez…

632 nights: 24,148 miles travelled : countries visited: 25

” A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving”   Lao Tzu

Here we go again…snail trails part trois!

We left the UK under grey skies and drizzle and drove the first few hundred miles south under the same. The difference was that we’re now on quiet D roads  carving straight lines through long villages oozing French rustic charm. There’s more wooden shutters, twisted ironwork and faded paint on gable ends (advertising Dubonnet or Michelin), than you can shake a baguette at. The mood inside our snail  lifted. The winter months at home saw us become happily enmeshed in the life of family and friends and the temptation to hibernate next to a log burner was almost overwhelming. But the return to familiar routines enforced by motorhome life is comforting, and constantly changing scenery distracts us from any home sickness.

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Mouliherne

Fog and rain deterred us from lingering too long among all the Gallic gorgeousness but we did enjoy revisiting old haunts and some wonderful free stopovers on France’s network of aires.

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Early morning  alarm bells from the lovely church at Cubnezais, Aquitaine

Many villages have at least an overnight parking place for motorhomes or a service point for fresh water and disposing of waste. They are often provided free in the hope that local businesses will benefit and we always enjoy visiting local cafés or the boulangerie.

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Emptying the toilet and living the dream!

The internet allows us to benefit from other traveller’s experience and we found a leisurely but direct route , largely avoiding toll roads, down to the Spanish border. We were still being chased by wet weather so we sat out a stormy weekend and did the laundry at a friendly campsite ,which hosted campers from all over Europe, on their way to or from sunnier skies.

Our first miles in Spain were masked by a net of mist so we didn’t see much of the Basque region on either side of the border but the light was more promising by the time we reached our first overnight stop in Olite. This modest town was once home to the royal families of Navarra and the castle is thought to have housed giraffes and lions as well as Kings. The turrets, church spires and narrow streets were an atmospheric introduction to Spanish old towns.

 

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Olite Town Hall

Fixing dried thistles to doors is believed to keep bad spirits away. As some only operate at night, these flowers would lead the devils to assume that the sun is shining on this dwelling. As if the doors weren’t characterful enough.

We parked in the Area Municipal behind the beautiful  Church of San Pedro, with the bell tower topped by ‘Torre de Aguja’ (needle spire) and another early morning call!

Heavy cloud caught up with us again and we headed hopefully towards a region of semi-desert; surely it won’t rain there? The Parque National de las Bárdenas Reales covers the south-east of Navarre and was initially created by deforestation and shaped by wind and water erosion.We wondered what all the fuss was about as we drove into the park area, with vegetation getting a little more scarce but no sand visible.

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It was only as we set off on foot that we felt that we were walking onto the set of a spaghetti western and realised that the landscape was becoming more and more bizarre.

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Where did the field go?

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The lack of rain made Mr Kips a bit giddy!

 

There was another wonderful Area Autocaravanas nearby in Arguedas. We were next to some troglodyte homes, some of which appeared to have been inhabited until relatively recently. An excellent footpath led up to explore them and gave a good view of the town below.

Our third day of driving in Spain was the most eventful. For one thing, we were travelling through what looked like the Wild West with steep sided, flat topped rocky plateaus marking the horizons on either side of us. Then we had to get our sunglasses out….for the first time in months! We sat back and smiled from the inside out. This is the best of snailing, when the journey is as much fun as arriving.

Just before lunchtime, we were pulled over by the Civil Guard as we cruised along a dual carriageway and after anxious minutes waiting, while mentally checking that we were complying with all the Spanish road regulations, we were waved through the road block. Being a pair of grey headed wrinklies has some benefits. We had decided to push a long way south and towards the end of our long drive, we were  confronted by a man in the middle of the road with a red lollipop board. Having looked at our number plates, he approached the van and did what any sensible person (read we) would do when confronted with someone who isn’t fluent in your language. He spoke his own, very fast and very loud! Having just reached episode 2 of our free conversational Spanish course (given away in the Independent in 2007!),  we only knew how to count to 10 and ask which boarding gate our aircraft leaves from!! Luckily this meant that I heard the Spanish word for eight in the midst of the diatribe. So I pointed to my watch, ocho? ‘Si si, ocho’. He then enthusiastically repeated everything again, faster and louder so this time the only word we could make out was dynamita! Tempted as we were to see what he was going to do with explosives, eight o’clock was another four hours away, so we turned around and found an alternative route to Morella.

The sky was still clear when we arrived at the motorhome stop just out of town, which meant we got to enjoy the magnificent view of the Castell de Morella.

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However it also meant that we experienced a really cold night…Kipper had to be tucked back into his sleeping bag twice!  The sun on the town next morning made this all worthwhile and we had wonderful time exploring the steep streets and the castle ruins.

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Natural fortifications
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Cloister ruins in the 13th century Franciscan convent

The Church of Santa Maria la Major has not one but two beautiful doorways, the door of the Disciples and the door of the Virgins, and a blue tiled dome.

As we climbed higher we could see snow capped hills in the distance and the town, with it’s mile long wall, sixteen towers and bullring below us.

Morella celebrates several fiestas, the most famous being Sexenni, held every six years to thank the Virgin of Vallivani for saving those who survived a plague in the 17th century. The giants are paraded at all the festivals and represent the two cultures of Christianity and Islam and their coexistence which characterised the town for much of it’s history.

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The boys also made friends with the smaller representation of a civic leader, who did much to promote the town’s textile production and wore his stripey blanket with pride (he was still cold to the touch though!)

Local products include sausage and ham and oodles of truffles but we were most tempted to try the flaon, a pastry stuffed with almonds and cottage cheese. And how could we resist the meringues? They reminded us of the  castle we had just climbed so surely we had earned one….each! And with them being advertised on wood and what with them blending so naturally into their surroundings surely they’re actually good for us?!

We were only a couple of hours inland from the unfortunately named Peniscola, a coastal town with another magnificent castle.

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However there are also tower blocks and no entry to the beach signs for Kipper, (torture!) so after a few days of housekeeping on a quiet but busy site, we are ready to explore more of what Spain has to offer.

M & G xx

Treat of the week: In true snail trail style, it has been less of a dash for the sun than a shuffle for the shadows, but then you don’t get those without the sun!

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